Your New CAD Management Plan

22 Sep, 2010 By: Robert Green

With economic recovery in sight, now is the time to develop strategies for budgeting, growth, and user training.

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Let's face it: the last couple of years haven't been easy for anyone, let alone CAD managers. Chances are you've spent less time on CAD management and more time supporting projects, all while stressing about possibly losing your job. This type of "just get it done" CAD environment doesn't lend itself to proper CAD management planning, does it? Well, sooner or later the economy will have to get better, and we'll all wish we'd planned better for our futures.

In the next few editions of the CAD Manager's Newsletter, I'll share some strategies and tips to help you plan for the new CAD management realities we'll experience as the economy (hopefully) starts to recover. Here goes.

What's in a CAD Management Plan?

In a word: Everything. All the factors related to utilizing CAD in your company are issues you should be thinking about and planning for.

In years prior to the recent economic recession, I would have listed major planning areas as follows:

  • Creation or modification of your budget
  • Creation and delivery of a training program
  • Staff development and evaluation
  • File and data management concerns
  • Evaluation and deployment of software upgrades
  • Upkeep and modernization of CAD standards
  • Upkeep and modernization of CAD-related hardware
  • Delivery of normal technical and production-related support tasks
  • Minimizing last-minute disasters via planning.

CAD managers must certainly still worry about all these issues, but the recession has added other concerns to the list, including:

  • Increasing productivity 2 to 3% per year with no staff hiring
  • Minimizing software costs via creative licensing techniques
  • Maximizing remote staff work sharing via cloud or network file sharing
  • Minimizing CAD management costs by being more billable
  • Creating a plan for soon-to-be-adopted technologies like BIM (building information modeling).

Planning ahead for these new CAD management realities should help you emerge from the recession in as good a shape as possible. So how can you best do so?

Organize and Prioritize

Once you have to plan for all these tasks, how should you prioritize them? After all, you're pressed for time and want to be certain you're working through your list in the right order.

Based on the feedback I've received from CAD managers, their companies, and business owners, I've prioritized the following groupings of specific tasks as follows, starting with the jobs that should be tackled first.

Make projects run better:

  • Minimize or eliminate last-minute disasters via planning
  • Execute normal technical and production-related support tasks
  • Minimize CAD management costs by being more billable
  • Keep your current hardware and networks running efficiently.

Build a faster, cheaper CAD infrastructure:

  • Increase productivity 2 to 3% per year with no staff hiring
  • Maximize remote staff work sharing via cloud or network file sharing
  • Minimize software costs via creative licensing techniques
  • Standardize software deployment.

Improve CAD standards to reduce errors:

  • Target your training to emphasize standards and methods
  • Evaluate staff in a way that emphasizes these metrics.

Plan and budget for the long term

  • Plan for file storage and management issues
  • Plan for new IT items like servers, plotters, etc.
  • Create a plan for soon-to-be-adopted technologies like BIM.

Document your plan

  • Keep budget documents up-to-date
  • Explain your plan via e-mail, formal write-ups, and conversations.

Make Projects Run Better

Please note that a key item I include in my planning list is minimizing the last-minute crises you deal with via good planning. The simple fact is, the more that you plan, the less likely it is you'll be surprised, and the less time you'll spend fixing things that have already gone wrong. So before you do anything else, resolve to avoid problems via good planning, to deal with problems calmly, and to learn from them so you won't repeat your mistakes. Presiding over an unending series of disasters makes people think you're a poor manager.

You might also observe the trend toward doing everything you can to make jobs flow smoothly by properly supporting users and keeping critical CAD systems running smoothly, as well as keeping CAD management overhead down by making yourself billable.

The common thread here may be summarized by saying, "Do the best you can with the tools you already have," and "Always find a way to keep costs down." It has always been my observation that keeping everything in your CAD system environment running smoothly goes a long way toward meeting these key objectives. Finally, by making your CAD management tasks support job needs, you may be able to bill your time to projects instead of overhead, thus making yourself more billable.

In a poor economy, moving the projects forward is job number one, so pay more attention to this group of tasks than to anything else.

Build a Faster, Cheaper CAD Infrastructure

The key here is to aim for a modest productivity improvement of 2 to 3% per year, which is typically pretty easy to accomplish if you search for savings in the right places. First, think about how you might save money on your software licensing fees by using network licensing, remote deployment, or even old-fashioned ideas like shared machines. If you can serve the same number of users with fewer licenses, why not do so?

Next, think about how standardizing the way you install/deploy software could save you CAD management time by making all installations go smoothly, with reduced debugging time. Further, consider how improving your overall standards will drive down error rates, allowing you to complete billable work with fewer errors and spend less CAD management time on debugging problems.

Finally, think about how you can use your in-house training to emphasize your newfound efficiency tools like standards, software deployment, shared software usage, etc. It stands to reason that users will be more efficient if they're shown how to be during training — and if they know that a portion of their evaluation depends on it.

A note on the jobless recovery.
You may have read articles alluding to a "jobless recovery" in the context of the current economy. In this scenario, it is assumed that better software, network technology, and work practices can be applied in such a way that workers get more done, so the company can grow without hiring anyone. My observations of the market and conversations with small-business owners indicate that the "jobless recovery" scenario is very real.

The good news is that businesses are willing to invest in technology and CAD management, but only if they believe that they'll be able to get more done with the same number of staff. Therefore your CAD management plan must emphasize making projects flow smoothly, with fewer errors (refer to the first section of the priority list above) while constantly improving efficiency (the second section above) as you do so.

Plan and Budget for the Long Term

Of course, no short-term plan will make up for failing to plan for the longer term. However, longer-term planning and budgeting only makes sense when the short-term CAD management plan is already working. The current system provides the foundation for future plans.

I'll address longer-term planning and documentation in a future edition of the CAD Manager's Newsletter.

Summing Up

I hope this topic has made you think about how the current economic climate affects CAD managers' perceptions of their jobs. I'm not saying we have to like the new realities, but we must deal with them.

In the next edition of the CAD Manager's Newsletter, I'll focus on giving you tips you can use to meet the objectives laid out in this issue, and share preliminary results from the CAD Manager's Survey 2010. Until then.

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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